I bought my first house in 1983, a 2BR 1BA baby on North Oak Street that cost $46,000, roughly $30,000 more than I could afford considering interest rates.
Ripped out the green shag living room carpet, had my pal John Arteaga put on a new roof that still looks good 40 years later, and the following summer bought five gallon cans of yellow exterior paint down at Montgomery Ward’s. Got me a ladder, some brushes, stocked the fridge with beer and went to work.
My next door neighbor was a big guy, a mountain of a man named Mr. Mustard, and he would occasionally stroll over to watch, chat and reminisce. He said when he was a kid he lived in the same neighborhood and watched housepainters put the first, and at that point only, coat of paint on my new (1920s) house.
He said they opened cans of white, poured the lead in, stirred it up and got to painting. He said lead is what makes paint so durable and good-looking, and I could argue neither point because it still looked fine 60 years later when I covered it in creamy yellow.
Mr. Mustard had lots of memories. He recalled seeing the very first car roll into Potter Valley, a Ford Model T, and that the sight, sound and magic of it helped make him a lifelong mechanic and fixit guy.
One summer he and a buddy delved into a Sears & Roebuck catalogue and purchased a motorbike that came in a box and had to be assembled with tools included in the kit. They put it together and took a road trip all the way from Potter Valley down to Cloverdale. It took two days.
What an adventure it must have been, and I should have queried Mr. Mustard on the details of their Huck-and-Tom journey bouncing on dirt roads alongside rivers and railroad tracks, dodging rocks, seeing wild animals, sleeping ‘neath the stars and eating what, exactly?
By this point, midsummer ’84, I had painted all the way ‘round from the front porch to the east side of the house. I was on a ladder when Hank Greenwald on KNBR made the grand slam call on Kelvin Chapman’s dead-left shot against the Giants. It was a summer to remember, and I’ll bet ex-Met Kelvin, now out in Redwood Valley, enjoys few memories better than that one.
Now back to Mr. Mustard and his lousy short-term memory. He told me he’d lost his ability to recall recent events “after the doctors drilled a hole in my head,” pointing to a spot on his skull where a scar was prominent. He said he had clear recollections from half a century ago “but I can’t had remember what I had for lunch.”
I can remember things from kindergarten singalongs and a fifth grade spelling bee and going to my first game at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland, but I watched the A’s game a few nights ago and can’t remember the score, who pitched, or what I had for dinner. Maybe Catfish Hunter. Doritos, Poptarts and beer, probably.
Yeah, it’s my short-term memory but it’s also (said the garrulous old guy whittling in his rocking chair on the front porch) that things go too fast now. The future just won’t stand still and let me get a feel for it, sink my teeth into it and get accustomed to what’s going on. The next future changes before I even got to know the last future, the other future, the one that happened 15 years ago. Or six months.
In the 1920s things were up, running, familiar and sufficiently advanced to run an efficient country. We had airplanes, movies, pop music, cars, indoor heat, indoor plumbing and slick cars that went 75 miles an hour.
Unlike Mr. Mustard I think I already remember the future and it’s just like today but more so. What’s coming our way is less personal freedom and more bad music. Nobody asked me if I want a driverless car, but all of a sudden it’s here and I’m just a passenger? Halftime “music” at the next Super Bowl is Eminem & Snoop the Dog?
Housing is shoddy, cities are dangerous and it’s clear the Great American Novel will not be written in our lifetime which means it won’t be written, period. I’d rather have five channels of mediocre television than 100 channels loaded with infomercials, dishonest news and shallow insults from comedians who don’t know humor from tumor.
Tomorrow’s money is here today and it doesn’t exist, but credit cards sure do, for everything from a sack of potatoes to tickets for the next Rolling Stones tour, scheduled for 2047. Cash is already obsolete and will soon be illegal.
Movies are worse but at least there will be a lot more of them, mostly made in China along with that driverless car. And if that car is going to take me on the fabled Information Superhighway it can just drop me at the next offramp; I’ll walk from here.
Education has been twisted into propaganda, and a college campus is where to go if you’re looking for censorship and zero tolerance for different opinions. Higher education? We beg an answer: Higher than what?
We take small comfort knowing that if Mr.Mustard were to attend a college lecture on “Demanding Diversity Now! in Uranus,” he would be able to forget it by dinnertime.
(Tom Hine writes under the TWK byline.)